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Cyclades - Island Hopping in the Realm of the Windmills

The Cyclades are a group of volcanic islands in the South Aegean, which can be explored by going island hopping. You will discover wonderful landscapes, idyllic beaches and the typical windmills, which are the Cyclades' landmarks.

Windmills on Santorini in the Cyclades

Geography - The volcanic islands in the South Aegean

The Cyclades (Greek: "rings") are an island group in the Aegean Sea and one of the most popular travel destinations in Greece. They consist of about 56 smaller and greater volcanic islands and are located around the sacred island of Delos. The islands have an overall area of about 2,572 km² and a population of about 110,000 people. Based on their geographical position, the Cyclades can be divided into four groups: the eastern, western and central Cyclades as well as another more distant western group. Some of the most important islands are Syros with the capital of Ermoupolis, Naxos, Paros, Mykonos, Santorini (Thira), Milos, Tinos, Kythnos and Ios. There are many islands which have been spared from tourism so far and are untouched, for example Anafi, Amorgos, Andros, Sikinos, Serifos and Folegandros. There is Mediterranean climate on the Cyclades. Due to the Meltemi wind (a dry north-west wind in the Aegean), the summers are pleasantly cool, while the winters are relatively mind and dry.

View of the island of Syros in the Cyclades

Nature - Fertile soil and varied landscapes

The soil on the Cyclades mainly consist of mica schist and gneiss or of volcanic rock or granite, which makes them very fertile. Due to this fertility and the mild climate, the Cyclades were called the "Pearls of Hellas" in ancient times. Since then, the landscape has changed considerably. Most islands are not vegetated by trees any more, they are very poor in water and look barren and burnt. However, there are still many areas in which wine, oil, silk, honey, cotton and southern fruit are grown or produced. The largest Cycladic island, Naxos, is also the most fertile one. Its scenery is very varied. You see vast meadows, long sandy beaches and steep cliffs along the coast as well as harsh mountains, fertile valleys, bubbling springs and soughing streams.

Typical coastal landscape in the Cyclades

Culture - Of white houses, windmills and ancient lions

One of Europe's greatest Mediterranean civilisations originated in this region, the Cycladic culture. The islands are characterised by white houses, countless windmills and a special dazzling bright light. The windmills symbolise the region's culture and tradition as well as a sustainable lifestyle in close touch with nature as it was typical in the time before technology. 600 windmills were once in operation on the Cyclades. The island of Delos was a flourishing and sacred site in ancient times because of its sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. Delos, which is almost uninhabited nowadays, accommodates one great excavation site, which is the most important one in the country and attracts thousands of tourists. In 1990, the island was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Mykonos is a popular tourist destination and fascinated artists, intellectuals and the international jet set in particular. Worthwhile attractions on this island are the Aegean Maritime Museum and the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani. Santorini offers an impressive harbour entrance and pearl-white houses along the steep crater wall. While the western side of the volcanic island descends steeply into the sea, the eastern side is rather flat and has wonderful sandy beaches, which are ideally suited for going bathing. In Naxos' capital (Chora), travellers find a scenic Venetian castle, which is located on a hill overlooking the town. The town itself displays an age-old history. In the north of the island, you see the incomplete monumental statue of a kouros (a free-standing male statue) from the 6th century BC. There are archaeological museums on several islands, for example in the capital of Ermoupolis on Syros and on the islands of Mykonos and Naxos.

Archaeological finds on the island of Delos

Experience - On the back of a donkey

Travellers who go on a trip to the Cyclades will notice that there are very few or no motorised vehicles on the smaller islands. Therefore, there are no paved roads either. Taking your car with you on a ferry to islands on which you are allowed to drive it is relatively expensive. This is a way of limiting the use of cars on the islands. The traditional means of transport is still the donkey. Santorini's capital Phirá (Thirá) is located 300 metres above the harbour. Most travellers use the cable car to go up there and walk or ride back down the famous steps to the harbour. During the summer, you can participate in many folk festivals on the island of Paros such as the popular Festival of Fish and Wine. The island of Ios also has a lot to offer. While you can go shopping in its old town during the day, there are many parties in idyllic atmosphere at night. In addition, you can visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Of course, there are many bathing opportunities as well. The long sandy beaches and the crystal clear water promise unforgettable island holidays.

Santorini and the characteristic donkeys

Activities - Island hopping, sailing and bathing bays

One of the most popular activities in the Cyclades is the well-known island hopping, which was practically invented on the Cyclades. The great and regular ferry connections offer excellent conditions for it. The best starting point on the mainland is the harbour in Piraeus. In addition, the Cyclades are a popular sailing destination. Once you have arrived on the islands, you can explore them. In the evening, visitors can walk through the many winding alleys in towns like Fira and Oia (both on Santorini), Mykonos City, Naoussa (Paros) and Ermoupolis (Syros). Idyllic bathing bays and long sandy beaches attract holidaymakers at day. Long island tours by scooter, quad or car are equally interesting and a great way of enjoying the beautiful landscape and the sun and see some sights at the same time.

Sailing adventures in the Cyclades

Information

Several islands in the Cyclades have an airport. While Santorini (JTR) and Mykonos (JMK) have international airports, there are only national airports on Milos (MLO), Naxos (JNX), Paros (PAS), Syros (JSY) and Astypalea (JTY). You best reach these from Athens (ATH). However, the main means of transport in the Cyclades are the ferries. They take visitors to the islands from harbours in Piraeus and Rafina on the mainland. You can travel from the greater islands to the smaller ones.

Island hopping, tower mills, archaeological sites, long sandy beaches and the ideal sailing destination - you find all that in the Cyclades. Despite the native Cycladic culture which they all share, every island has its individual character and charm.

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